Cauliflower Guide

Cauliflower

Cauliflower is a member of the cabbage family, Brassica oleracea. Like all cabbages, cauliflower suffers terribly from overcooking. A properly cooked cauliflower has a pleasant fresh flavor but when overcooked it turns grey and becomes unpalatably soft, taking on a nasty rank flavor with an unpleasant aftertaste.

History : Cauliflower is thought to have come originally from China and thence to the Middle East. The Moors introduced it to Spain in the twelfth century and from there it found its way to England via established trading routes. The early cauliflower was the size of a tennis ball but they have gradually been cultivated to the enormous sizes we see today. Ironically, baby cauliflowers are now fashionable.

Varieties : Green and occasionally purple cauliflowers are available in the shops. The purple variety was originally grown in Sardinia and Italy but is increasingly grown by other market gardeners. They look pretty and unusual but are otherwise similar to white cauliflowers. Dwarf varieties of cauliflowers are now commonly available in shops, as well as baby white cauliflowers.

Romanescoes : These pretty green or white vegetables look like a cross between broccoli and cauliflower, but are more closely related to cauliflowers. They taste very much like cauliflowers, but since they are quite small, they are less likely to be overcooked and consequently retain their excellent flavor.

Broccoflower : A cross between broccoli and cauliflower, this looks like a pale green cauliflower. It has a mild flavor and should be cooked in the same way as you would cauliflower.

Nutrition : Cauliflower contains potassium, iron and zinc, although cooking reduces the amounts. It is also a good source of vitamins A and C.

Buying and Storing : In top condition, a cauliflower is a creamy white color with the outer leaves curled round the flower. The head should be unblemished with no black or discolored areas and the outer leaves should look fresh and crisp. Keep cauliflower in a cool place for no longer than 1-2 days; after that it will deteriorate and valuable nutrients will be lost.

Preparing : To cook a cauliflower whole, first trim away the coarse bottom leaves (leave the inner ones on, if liked). Very large cauliflowers are best halved or broken into florets, as the outside will overcook before the inside is tender. Some people trim away the stalk, but others like this part and only trim off the very thick stalk at the bottom of the plant.

Cooking : Cauliflowers are excellent steamed, either whole or in florets. Place in a steamer or colander over a pan of boiling water, cover and steam until just tender and immediately remove from the heat. The florets can then be fried in olive oil or butter for a few minutes to give a lightly browned finish.

When cooking a cauliflower whole, start testing it after 10 minutes; it should feel tender but still have plenty of "bite" left in it. Cauliflower is a popular vegetable accompaniment, either served with just a little butter, or with a tomato or cheese sauce. it is also good stir-fried with onions and garlic together with a few tomatoes and capers.

Cauliflower is excellent in salads or used for crudites. Either use it raw or blanch it in boiling water for 1-2 minutes, then refresh under cold running water. Small cauliflowers and romanescoes are intended to be cooked whole, and can be steamed or boiled, covered with a lid, in the minimum of water for 4-5 minutes until just tender.

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